Even though one influential Senator called President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal for the Defense Department “dead on arrival,” there are many positive takeaways for the national security space community that could very well survive as the budget moves through both houses of Congress.
The Trump administration released its request last week for $1.15 trillion in federal funding for the 2018 fiscal year. While the administration has touted the request as the first step toward balancing the federal budget by 2027 and cutting unnecessary government spending, the proposal has already seen fierce opposition from both sides of the aisle. The chief criticisms are directed at the budget’s cuts to social programs, which have been proposed in part to pay for a boost in defense spending.
The proposal requests $639.1 billion for the Department of Defense, including $574.5 billion in base funding and $64.6 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations funding. Compared to projections for FY18 in the Obama Administration’s FY17 budget request, the new budget represents an $18.4 billion increase. Even with the proposed increases, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, panned the budget as insufficient for defense and went so far as to give it the dead-on-arrival label.
Despite the derision from Congress on the proposal, the request reflects a formal Major Force Program for space for the first time, intended to enhance the traceability and visibility of overall investment into the domain. Funding for space is up $349.1M in the FY18 request compared to projected levels from FY17. This increase is driven by substantial investment in space research, development, testing and evaluation (RDT&E), which offsets a decrease in space procurement.
Investments and improvements in future technology underscore the Air Force’s intent to develop more resilient space capabilities in the face of an increasingly congested and contested operating environment. The Air Force also intends to begin seven new programs in FY18, including Evolved SBIRS, the Space Surveillance Telescope, and Protected Tactical SATCOM.
Though the overall SATCOM portfolio is down from FY17, SATCOM programs received noticeable attention in the FY18 request, including several new programs of record involving modernization efforts.
The request invests $358M in Protected SATCOM, including AEHF, SMI, Polar and Protected Services. Protected Tactical Services and Polar Communications both saw new programs of record initiated to develop new and improved systems. There is also increased investment in SATCOM terminals, primarily for the FAB-T program, which provides SATCOM capability over the Milstar and AEHF constellations.
The request also reflects the Air Force’s continued consideration of what will replace the aging Wideband Global Satcom satellites by sustaining investment into the COMSATCOM Pathfinder initiative, Wideband AoA, and COMSATCOM Pilot program.
While presenting the Air Force’s space budget, Maj Gen Roger Teague noted that the Pentagon is “looking very aggressively across every mission area,” to determine where commercial industry’s capabilities can be integrated into the overall architecture.
While the emphasis on investment in future technology, commercial integration, and the level of attention given to SATCOM programs are encouraging signs, this proposal will likely only serve as a rough guideline for the forthcoming House and Senate spending bills. However, given the recent attention space has seen in Congress, it seems the Air Force and lawmakers agree that now is the time to invest in earnest in assuring U.S. dominance in space.